New Blood Pressure Guidelines Dangerous?
Research says the treatment threshold is too high for those over 60 years of age
By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, Feb. 1, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists continue to debate when doctors should prescribe blood pressure medication for older Americans, with a new study saying delayed treatment puts people at greater risk of stroke.
For people 60 and older, a U.S. panel in 2014 recommended raising the blood pressure rate at which doctors prescribe treatment from 140 to 150 systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading.
But the new study finds that people with systolic blood pressure of 140 to 149 have a 70 percent increased risk of stroke compared to people with lower blood pressure.
"Our study shows the borderline group is probably as risky as having a blood pressure greater than 150, at least for stroke risk," said senior author Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "This was a controversial move, and I think our study suggests we shouldn't switch it to 150. We should stick to 140."
The new findings, published online Feb. 1 in the journal Hypertension, are unlikely to quell arguments over proper blood pressure management, however.
For instance, the new study does not address the risk of side effects associated with blood pressure medications, or how medication would alter a person's overall stroke risk, said Dr. Paul James, head of family medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
"It's a matter of balancing the risk of treatment with the benefits of treatment," said James. "That's not a simple thing, and it's not really something that one study like this study could answer."
About one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure (or "hypertension"), according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The institute formed the Eighth Joint National Committee, or JNC8, in 2008 to update high blood pressure treatment guidelines issued in 2003. Its final recommendation, issued in 2014, said that adults aged 60 or older should only take blood pressure medication if their blood pressure exceeds 150/90, a higher bar of treatment than the previous guideline of 140/90.